COCT releases heritage management guideline booklet

Understanding the limits of what we can and can’t do with our houses, particularly in an older suburb like Observatory – most of which also falls under a Heritage Protection Overlay Zone – can feel pretty daunting. Can I paint my house bright pink? Can I replace my wooden window frames with aluminum? Can I build a loft bedroom in the roof like the estate agent suggested I could when I bought it?

According to the law, technically any alterations or additions to a property older than 60 years require you to apply to Heritage Western Cape for a permit. The heritage authorities’ job is to manage an acceptable level of change to a property or a neighborhood, supported by the City’s Department of Environmental and Heritage Management. HWC and other authorities’ major task is to weigh up impacts on heritage against socio-economic needs, urban planning strategies, property rights, and municipal policies, among others.
To help make these limitations and decision-making processes clearer and more accessible, the City of Cape Town has recently released the first in a series of heritage advice guideline booklets. You can download it here ( It includes an overview of some of the terms and ideas that inform how heritage is managed in the built environment, including the Heritage Protection Overlay Zones; and explains how to make a heritage application to Heritage Western Cape.

For most Observatory residents and property owners, the most important section of the booklet will be Section 3.1.1, which deals with applications for a property older than 60 years. Useful to know is that you can always consult with E&HM staff to find out what restrictions might apply to your property and how to navigate the application process. You can also use the City of Cape Town’s online map viewer to determine if your property has been given a grading (for example, a “Grade III” building is one that is seen to have local significance within an area) along with other useful information. Also important to note is that any heritage application requires you to obtain official comment from the local E&HM office as well as from the local conservation body, which in Observatory is the OCA. Some applications might require you to make use of a heritage professional or an architect with heritage expertise, depending on what you are planning to do: but this is not necessarily compulsory, and for many minor alterations and simple cases, you can submit the applications yourself.

The OCA has an Architecture and Heritage committee, which assesses and comments on heritage applications as part of this process. You are welcome to contact Naomi Roux, who manages the Architecture and Heritage portfolio in the OCA, at [email protected].